A friend of mine, Gowseelya Narassen, shared with me a somewhat upsetting incident during her Deepavali open house recently.
It all began when Gowseelya decided to switch on the television in search of either a good Indian movie or a variety programme for her guests to watch. She picked a show hosted by an Indian female VJ.
Eye-balling the VJ, one of her guests, an Indian, exclaimed: “Eyerr, look at the host. So dark, some more wearing such striking colours. So ugly!”
The other guests nodded in agreement, criticising the producer’s choice of a dark-skinned female as presenter of the Indian TV programme.
“Yes, the host is not as fair as Kajol, Bipasha Basu and Priyanka Chopra (who have all undergone skin lightening treatments to hide their naturally darker skin tones). She is wrapped in a bright coloured saree – striking yellow and shocking pink. She also has her face painted in some strong colours. But what is so wrong about a dark person wearing colourful attire and make up? Don’t they have the right to want to look good like those with fairer skin?” Gowseelya asked.
Clearly my friend was upset. And she had all the right to be.
Indians in Malaysia have, for as long as I can remember, fought against society’s stereotypes when it comes to their darker skin colour. And the darker they are, the stronger the stereotype.When a dark Indian enters a lift, people clutch at their belongings just a little tighter.
- When a dark Indian walks past rows of parked cars, the drivers instinctively lock their vehicles.
- When a dark Indian walks towards a group of people on a lonely road, many quickly cross to the other side or look away nervously.
- When a dark Indian is spotted riding a motorbike, others who notice him sprint off as fast as possible.
- When a dark Indian gets on a plane, more often than not, he or she receives less than desirable hospitality from the air crew.
Stories like these are nothing unusual in Malaysian society. Indians have long put up with the stigma of being dark – no wonder Petronas’s Deepavali advertisement titled “I Am Muniandy” was very well received. It was good to realise our prejudicial ways and do something to rectify it. But as Gowseelya clearly pointed out, Indians are equally guilty of discriminating against their own kind.
I remember an Indian friend once telling me that she only dated Mat Sallehs because she wanted beautiful, non-Indian looking babies. And yes, she married one and is now a mom to a white baby boy.
Another Indian friend asked for my help not too long ago to find a match for her daughter. She texted me later that day: My daughter is 28 y/o, fair skin, slim, graduate, works in IT. She prefers men below 35, not too dark, tall, fit, good command of English and a professional.
An Indian producer I was recently in a meeting with, made a suggestion to substitute the dark-skinned actor we were already working with, with a fair-skinned one. Apparently, she felt a dark-skinned actor playing an ugly character would be rather offensive.
Seriously, how can we claim to be victimised by society’s stereotypical ways when we ourselves discriminate against our own kind based on the colour of our skin? We frown upon reading about this double standard against fellow dark-skinned Indians, yet we ourselves look for pretty, fair-skinned Indian girlfriends. We become keyboard warriors bashing those who discriminate against the dark-skinned, claiming beauty comes from within, when we enslave ourselves to whitening products.
Why the hypocrisy?
Is it because deep inside we too believe having dark skin is a curse?
Do we also think being dark is ugly and does not benefit us in any way?
Truth is, Indians will never progress in life if we continue to cultivate this mindset. No use sharing and re-posting the “I Am Muniandy” Petronas advertisement when we ourselves look at another Indian the same way those prejudicial non-Indians look at us with disdain or worse yet, suspicion.
As long as we ourselves feel inferior because of our darker shade, let us not expect others to accept us without any prejudice either.